Balancing Music School and Practicing

Q: I am a music student at a music conservatory, and I just had a year off for practice and teaching. Now I’m back to finish the last two years of my music education, and I’ve just received my lesson plan for the next 12 months. I have four lessons a day Monday and Wednesday. I know if you want to evolve as a bass player, you have to practice every day. But I have a hard time seeing how to get it done during my days in class. My focus now is on ear training, transcribing and improvising. I’ll be focusing on improvising in school, but not ear training. So I would like to focus on ear training and bass playing every day. What do you recommend?

A: There is so much to being a good bass player, and this likely applies to anyone – balancing and of life’s responsibilities and music too.

In order to become good players we must also become good musicians. It sounds like you have classes two days a week and five days a week to practice and do other homework? That sounds way better than my college schedule.

Honestly, any time that you are devoting to developing other facets of your over-all musicianship is time spent becoming a better player. It all ties together.

Certainly, technique can only be developed via playing your instrument but ear training, understanding harmonic concepts, arranging and everything else you may be doing in school will certainly serve to help you become a better musician and, therefor a better bass player.

Don’t feel like you’re cheating yourself if you can’t get instrument time in every single day. Although, there is always time to play at home, I’d say. Even if you can only pick up your instrument and play through a standard, or try and play along to a Stevie Wonder track by ear… every minute spent playing and doing something that you can’t yet do is good.

University level education, by design, leaves you almost no time to do anything else (if they even leave you enough time to do the work assigned). It’s built that way to help and get you used to a certain kind of work ethic and practice.

I’ve said this in previous posts but, if you are studying and doing what you love, you will inevitably feel that there just isn’t enough time in the day to get the work in that you’d like to get in. That will never change. That’s why we do it, though. We love it!

It’s the difference between a job and a career. If you’re just going to work, you hate it and the minutes creep by. Time crawls and you just want it to pass but If you’re working on your career (i.e.: making a living at what you love to do and are passionate about), you may find yourself cursing the gods for only giving you 24 hours in a day and cursing your body for needing sleep because, although you’ve been doing music related activities for the past 10 hours, you desperately need to keep working on this or that, because it’s what you want to do.

So, don’t feel bad for not always having time to practice the way you’d like while in school. Feel a sense of joy and accomplishment because of how much of your time you get to devote to music as a whole. Fall in love with every aspect of musicianship – and not just the playing of the instrument – and you will undoubtedly become a much stronger musician for it.

Because, when you are playing your instrument, you will be translating all of your musical concepts and sensibilities with your instrument.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. I’m glad I found this one since my situation is very similar. If I had learn one thing in all these years is that music is in our minds, and in our bodies, our soul. We do not require an instrument to think or feel the music. Of course this takes decades of not practicing, but living music, 24/7.